The New Earth: A Return to Eden

Imagine a world in many ways similar to this one.  There are plants and animals, the full spectrum of God’s original creation.  We have bodies.  We eat, sleep, do pleasurable work, maybe even are sexual.  But this world has some profound differences.  First, we never die or get sick.  There is no war, crime, abuse or sin of any sort.  We don’t believe God exists by faith.  We see Him and speak with Him all the time.  Can you imagine this?  If so, where am I?

You might want to say the Garden of Eden, and that would be a close answer.  But this is a description of God’s ultimate, post-Judgment Day plans for us.  It is the New Earth.

I will say again, I am stunned as to how few Christians are familiar with even the idea of a new heaven and earth.  This includes clergy.  As you will see it is clearly declared in the Bible.  There is probably a more complete description of the New Earth than there is of Heaven.  People either haven’t read these passages or they have conflated the concept of Heaven with the New Earth. (If you haven’t read it, see: “Our Oversimplication of Life After Death“)

Let’s look at the passages about the New Earth, starting with the most basic 2 Peter 3.  Some of our questions will be answered, we can infer some things, but be prepared to have more questions than answers.

Starting with 2 Peter 3:10:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.

This passage foretells the complete annihilation of not only the planet but the whole of the universe.  All gone, down to the atomic level.  But this is not the end of all things.  In fact, it is something of which to look forward.  Why?  The creation as it now stands is messed up.  Its “order” has been disordered by Satan, by us and intentionally by God; and to get it back to the way God wants it, it must be destroyed and rebuilt.

In this passage we have very little detail of what the “new heaven and new earth” will be like, except that it is the “home of righteousness”.  We can infer some details from these words.  There will be no Satan, no sinfulness, no rebellion against God.  There will be no separation of God from His creation.  It will be somewhat like the Garden of Eden minus the way to mess it up.  We may maintain a knowledge of what evil was, but we will never go there again.

This was the understanding of life after death even in the Old Testament.  Next entry I will go to perhaps the most confounding passage on this topic or any in the Bible–Isaiah 65.

What Kind of Resurrected Body Would You Like?

The Resurrection of the Body gets a mixed emotional response from people, because people have a love/hate relationship with their own bodies.  So let us start with the body you have.  Perhaps it falls short of the body you wish to have.  You might be feeling some of the affects of getting old.  You may have to struggle with weight control.  You definitely have physical limits.  You may no longer, or maybe not ever, been seen as particularly attractive.  These things hurt.  But let us also acknowledge this, even with its flaws under sin and the curse, your body is quite an amazing feat of engineering.  The processes that each cell must do just to keep you alive is astounding.  The Bible says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”, and the psalmist who wrote that didn’t have a tenth of the information we have about the body.

So how much will your resurrected body have in common with your current body.  I think, not much.  We don’t have much information about our resurrected bodies, so most of our questions are for now unanswerable.  I would urge you, based on the information the Bible does give us, to keep an open mind about what it will be like.  Here is what we know:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.  1 Corinthians 15:42-44

From this you can dismiss aging, sickness and death for sure.  There may be physical limitations, but they sure won’t be the limitations you face now.  Sinful nature will be gone.  I wouldn’t interpret “spiritual body” to mean “without a physical presence” or anything like that.  The next paragraph in 1 Corinthians unpacks this phrase a bit:

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  So it is written:  The first Adam became a living being”, the last Adam (Jesus), a life giving spirit.  The spiritual did not come first, but the natural.  The first man was of the dust of the Earth, the second man from Heaven, so also are those who are of Heaven.  And just as we have born the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from Heaven.

This would encourage us to look at the properties of Jesus’ resurrected body.  He is tangible, but seems to move freely and instantly without barrier.  His appearance is recognizable except when he doesn’t wish to be recognized.  Possibly changing in appearance.  He bears some marks from His life, but only as marks of honor.

Without unpacking every proof passage that might suggest the answer.  Here are some understandable questions about the resurrected body, and my humble opinion of what the Bible says about them:

  • Will we recognize people?  Yes, including people we never met.
  • Will we be beautiful?  Absolutely gorgeous.
  • Will we retain any of our personality?  Yes, but sin and damage free.
  • Will we eat?  Yes, but never hunger.
  • Will we sleep?  Not so sure.
  • Will we work?  Yes, but not labor.  Our activities will be very satisfying.
  • Will we love and be loved? Yes, all relationships will be loving.
  • Will we be male or female?  I think yes.
  • Will we be sexual?  Most say no.  I think yes.
  • Will we be confined to the New Earth?  I think not.
  • Will we remember our lives here?  Yes, but in a fading fashion

We can speculate on many things, but there is very little information.  The information does intrigue, however.  For those who belong to Christ, the resurrection will be a great thing.

The Resurrection of All

“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life, others to everlasting contempt.”  Daniel 12:2

 

One huge surprise with respect to the resurrection of the dead is that everybody, not only the saved, will be resurrected.  This clearly not the same as everybody being saved.  Some will rise to “everlasting contempt”.

The Bible would place this event as a part of Judgment Day.  Just think about the situations of all who participate in the “general resurrection”.  Some have been dead for years, centuries, millennia.  If they have been saved through their connection to Christ, Heaven has been their place of residence.  Their physical body would probably be long decayed with its elements returning to the Earth in some way.  If a person had died without Christ, their abode has been Sheol–a place of suffering.  Like the others, their bodies have decayed away.  Then there are those who are still alive to that Day.  Some will belong to Jesus but most will not. What happens to them?

1 Thessalonians 4:13f speaks of the residents of Heaven returning with Jesus.  That passage only speaks of their resurrection, though there is no solid reason to imagine that this is at a different time than the resurrection Daniel speak of above. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 gives us this information:

Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, be we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, the last trumpet.  For the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

So everyone, at the same moment,  the last trumpet, will be resurrected or changed to a resurrected, imperishable body.  That is quite a picture.  Is it too much for you to believe?  One need not balk at logistical questions like, “What if someone was cremated or utterly destroyed in another way?” or “What if my atoms were shared by multiple living people?”  Our resurrected body will be ours not because it uses the exact same material we had while we lived.  So the final disposition of a body means little.  I doubt that we will resurrect where we were planted.  God is capable of reforming and reanimating.  There is nothing you need to do to help nor is there anything you can do to stop it.

The resurrection is completion of the promise of everlasting life for some and it is the whole person sealing of everlasting contempt for others.

Is It Perfect?

Many people resort to describing Heaven with one word, perfect.  Is it?  What does that word even mean?  Without a doubt the things that can make life here miserable will not be a part of Heaven by the time we get there.  But there is at least one section of the Bible that indicates that Heaven was at one time far less than perfect.

Revelation 12:7-10:

Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in Heaven saying, “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.

This is a very different idea of Heaven then what most people think about. Heaven can’t have war, can it? But it seems that Heaven had rebellion problems just as the earth does. Satan, the source of all rebellion against God, is seen prowling around Heaven up until the time of Christ. Jesus speaks of seeing Satan fall from Heaven like lightening.   Jesus’ victory seems to be soon after a military type assault carried out by Gods’ angels against Satan and his cohort.

We can see Satan’s Old Testament access to God’s throne room in the picture of Heaven found in Job. The account gives no physical details of the place but speaks of the relationships between the “sons of God”, which includes Satan, and God himself. Satan is a tolerated and yet rebellious figure in this story, but his expulsion seems to be prevented at the time. The reasons for Satan’s continued presence in Heaven throughout the Old Testament are uncertain, but the reason probably rests in rules whose existence we can infer through biblical phrases like “it is written” and “this must happen”.

In a similar fashion we can see Satan’s antagonistic presence in Heaven in Zechariah 3. Here Satan is accusing the high priest, Joshua, of some wrongdoing. Satan is strongly rebuked by God and Joshua’s sins are forgiven.

Another Heavenly squabble is told of in Jude. This time it is the archangel Michael disputing with Satan over Moses body. No details of this dispute are found in Scripture, but a story about this event is found in the apocryphal book, the Assumption of Moses. Jesus’ words in John 3:13 would preclude anyone being “assumed into Heaven”, but apparently there is some truth in this reported dispute.

What do the stories in Job, Zechariah, Jude, and Revelation teach us about Heaven? For one, it was not as peaceful and perfect as we assume. That may no longer true, but the rebellion against God didn’t get its start on earth—it started in Heaven. Perhaps this may explain why God is intent on a new heaven and earth, as opposed to forever in Heaven.

Is It Perfect?

Many people resort to describing Heaven with one word, perfect.  Is it?  What does that word even mean?  Without a doubt the things that can make life here miserable will not be a part of Heaven by the time we get there.  But there is at least one section of the Bible that indicates that Heaven was at one time far less than perfect.

Revelation 12:7-10:

Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in Heaven saying, “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.

This is a very different idea of Heaven then what most people think about. Heaven can’t have war, can it? But it seems that Heaven had rebellion problems just as the earth does. Satan, the source of all rebellion against God, is seen prowling around Heaven up until the time of Christ. Jesus speaks of seeing Satan fall from Heaven like lightening.   Jesus’ victory seems to be soon after a military type assault carried out by Gods’ angels against Satan and his cohort.

We can see Satan’s Old Testament access to God’s throne room in the picture of Heaven found in Job. The account gives no physical details of the place but speaks of the relationships between the “sons of God”, which includes Satan, and God himself. Satan is a tolerated and yet rebellious figure in this story, but his expulsion seems to be prevented at the time. The reasons for Satan’s continued presence in Heaven throughout the Old Testament are uncertain, but the reason probably rests in rules whose existence we can infer through biblical phrases like “it is written” and “this must happen”.

In a similar fashion we can see Satan’s antagonistic presence in Heaven in Zechariah 3. Here Satan is accusing the high priest, Joshua, of some wrongdoing. Satan is strongly rebuked by God and Joshua’s sins are forgiven.

Another Heavenly squabble is told of in Jude. This time it is the archangel Michael disputing with Satan over Moses body. No details of this dispute are found in Scripture, but a story about this event is found in the apocryphal book, the Assumption of Moses. Jesus’ words in John 3:13 would preclude anyone being “assumed into Heaven”, but apparently there is some truth in this reported dispute.

What do the stories in Job, Zechariah, Jude, and Revelation teach us about Heaven? For one, it was not as peaceful and perfect as we assume. That may no longer true, but the rebellion against God didn’t get its start on earth—it started in Heaven. Perhaps this may explain why God is intent on a new heaven and earth, as opposed to forever in Heaven.

But I Don’t Like Cloudy Weather

Google Heaven and go to Images.  What do you see?  A lot of clouds.  Is Heaven a shiny city on clouds?  If so, that isn’t very exciting.  The description of Heaven as cloudy is a misunderstanding of the Biblical text.  The Bible speaks of Jesus coming on the “clouds of heaven”.  This is a reference to our atmosphere and that Jesus will return to Earth from above.  Heaven, the throne room of God, does not have a cloudy floor like a bad heavy metal concert.

Physical descriptions of Heaven are very few.  You have from Revelation 4:  “Before the throne seven lamps were blazing.  These are the seven spirits of God.  Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”  This “sea” may correlate with what the Elders of Israel saw when they went to meet God.  From Exodus 24:9f, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel.  Under his feet was something like pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.”

The point is don’t get mislead by cultural representations of Heaven that feature mostly clouds.  If you want some picture focus in on the word, “paradise”.

What meaning is loaded into this term? The term is only used two other times in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his vision of heaven by saying that he was caught up into paradise—clearly a reference to Heaven. Revelation 2:7 speaks of the tree of life as being in the paradise of God. In this case it may be referring to the New Earth, but why not also Heaven?

The word itself comes from the Persian language and refers to a pleasure garden. That is why it is often used outside of the Bible to refer to the Garden of Eden. The few descriptions we have of Heaven are devoid of plants and geographical features. Because of this we are prone to fill in the blanks with clouds. If you have a drab and unexciting mental image of Heaven, then you have overlooked the word “paradise”. Keep in mind the Biblical descriptions of Heaven only give a cursory description of God’s throne room. They do not suggest that Heaven is only God’s throne room, nor do they do justice to the glory of this throne room. Some things words will just fail to adequately describe.

 

The Throne Room of God

I would like start this section with a passage about Heaven that is frequently overlooked. It is John 3:13:

No one has ascended into Heaven except he who descended from Heaven, the Son of Man.

This is a “wow” statement when you think about it. Jesus is unequivocally saying that nobody has been to Heaven to that point. That means that the two Old Testament visions of Heaven that seem like the person travels to Heaven (Isa. 6, Dan. 7) were just that—visions. They were not field trips. Even though the Bible says that a fiery chariot took Elijah into Heaven. It does not mean that Elijah went to the throne room of God, it just means that the chariot took him up. The word “heavens” can be used to refer to outer space, so it is important to watch your context. This verse also means all those Old Testament people who have been considered “righteous” still had not yet received their righteousness from Christ and gone to Heaven. The punishment for their sins had only been suspended for the time being (see Romans 3:25b). They awaited Christ’s victory in a pleasant portion of Sheol.

Why hadn’t anybody ascended to Heaven up to the time Jesus made that statement? We are sinners and do not deserve to be there. Perhaps we could not even survive being there in our condition. Only atonement for sin can change that situation and when this was spoken Jesus had still not atoned for the sins of the world.

This raises an interesting question about Isaiah’s experience. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah experiences a vision of Heaven and he also experiences his unworthiness. He says, “Woe to me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of (hosts.)” I’m sure Isaiah doesn’t know what exactly has happened to him. He doesn’t know if he is actually in Heaven or still in the temple and seeing Heaven. We would call it an out-of-body experience, but it would appear from Jesus’ statement above that he wasn’t as “out-of-body” as he perhaps felt.

Isaiah saw the throne room of God, but only as a vision. Even though only a vision, Isaiah was struck by his unworthiness to be there. “Woe to me” he said, “For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips.” Heaven isn’t heavenly for those who are unworthy to be there. The holiness of God is stressful for Isaiah in a vision, and possibly lethal for him in person. Still, God gave Isaiah this vision for a purpose. God had a mission to give him and the means to carry it out.

In his vision, Isaiah sees several bizarre creatures in the throne room of God. He calls them, “burning ones”, or Seraphim. The seraphim respond to Isaiah’s unworthiness in this way:

Then one of seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

I have always found this fascinating. Why didn’t Isaiah get burned? Why do coals on the altar atone for him? There is no answer given, so we can’t conclusively say. Perhaps the reason is that Isaiah wasn’t really there, so no burn. The altar that this refers to is the one copied in the Jerusalem temple where sacrifices were made. The Bible is clear that animal sacrifices do not really atone for sin at all. However, they were prophetic, as Isaiah’s experience was prophetic, of a sacrifice that will really atone; and that sacrifice was Jesus.

With the sacrifice of Christ completed, can mankind enter into Heaven and into the presence of God? It would appear so. The first invitation happens on the cross. Jesus says to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Some have interpreted Jesus’ words as saying that the thief will join Jesus in the good neighborhood of Sheol. The reasoning is simple, that is where Jesus is going next and we are not aware of a trip to Heaven until His ascension. But Jesus didn’t exactly leave us His travel itinerary. I would add to the evidence for Jesus going to Heaven on that day, Ephesians 4:8:

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.

I don’t think the ascension referenced here is the one the disciples observed for two reasons. First, Jesus is leading the Old Testament redeemed, here referred to as “captives”, somewhere, presumably Heaven. Next, the gifts referred to is the forgiveness of sins, which would have begun immediately after Jesus had finished His task of atonement. As such, Jesus could have gone to Heaven the very day He was crucified.

Next time:  More from the throne room of God